Give Green Jobs Training Time to Succeed

Authors: Jeremy Hays, Chief Strategist for State and Local Initiatives

Contributors: Jason Walsh

Investments don't pay off over the short term. That's the point. You're investing in a future return.

As part of the Recovery Act, the government - we - invested in training programs for careers in the green economy. Last Friday, the Department of Labor's Inspector General (IG) released a report suggesting that this still-nascent investment hadn't paid off in job creation and should be terminated, the funding for it reverting to Treasury.

We beg to differ. In a separate memo, we've explored the full details of our disagreement. Here's a summary.

First of all, the IG's report claims that the money hasn't been spent in a timely fashion - but they're not counting all of the money the program has committed. The report considers only money spent instead of money obligated. The training programs at issue are paid upon completion, not at the outset - just as one would hope. Funding has been obligated to programs which are still in process. When that money is included, almost two-thirds of the funds have been obligated in the three training programs and close to 90 percent have been obligated of the grants for labor market research and capacity building.

Second, the report focuses on job placement outcomes, which is necessarily the slowest part of a training program. Jobs are the final step. Since most of the training started in the second half of 2010, and the IG's report counts placement data from mid-2011 - less than a year later - it's a flawed and unrealistic metric.

Third, the report focuses on new worker training at the expense of the training of workers already on the job. Improving the skills of existing workers adds enormous value to the economy, and some of the funded programs do nothing but that. The report acknowledges this omission, but doesn't, it seems, consider it important.

There is an aspect of the report with which we don't disagree: we haven't been able to put people into green jobs fast enough. Not fast enough to match the growth of green economy and renewable energy manufacturers; not fast enough to get more jobs for people looking for work

And not fast enough, in part, because employer demand has been softer than expected. The blame for that doesn't lie with efforts to prepare people for jobs - it lies with the constant drumbeat from fossil fuel companies and their allies in Congress demanding that the green economy be slowed or shuttered. It lies with a still-stumbling economy that's in the hands of a Congress that doesn't want to look at it.

The lesson of the past two years isn't that the government shouldn't invest, or that its investments need to pay off immediately. It's that the government can have a role to play in giving Americans the best possible shot at having good, long-term careers. This training program is one way to do that - if we judge it fairly.

Any emerging, growing sector is going to require new training structures to be successful; these are jobs that often didn't exist. Training can be a pathway to the middle class for communities that are otherwise at risk of being left out of the economy entirely.

We can't job train our way into a growing economy. We can, however, prepare our workforce to be successful for it - to be ready for jobs in the fastest growing economic sectors are and in what promises to be the most competitive sector in the global economy.

And we must.

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